A child of divorced parents should not have to choose between them
Paul Yip and Melissa Chan say the ‘parental responsibility model’ that the Hong Kong government proposes should guide our custody laws would reduce stress on the affected children
The government recently launched a pubic consultation on how to amend our legislation on child custody and access, in response to the rising number of divorces in Hong Kong. Data shows that the total number of divorce decrees granted in 2013 (22,271 cases) was more than 10 times the number in 1981 (2,060 cases) in Hong Kong, and so more children are affected. The government should be commended for taking this step.
The custodial model, where the court grants one parent sole custody of the child, would be replaced by the “parental responsibility model” in use in England, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand. Under this new model, it is proposed that the law would no longer grant one parent all the power in making major decisions for the child. Instead, both parents would continue to have responsibility. And the child could continue seeing both parents if it was in the child’s best interest.
In our recent study on divorces in Hong Kong, commissioned by the Central Policy Unit, child custody and access has been the top issue for the court, followed by maintenance. In the early 2000s, over half of screened cases required the court to deal with child custody issues. In the past five years, this figure has dropped to between 35 and 45 per cent, probably as a result of an increase in the number of childless couples filing for divorce. Nevertheless, it is estimated that the percentage of children affected by divorce in the population has risen from 4 per cent in 2001 to 7 per cent in 2011 – some 81,000 children in 2011, up from 57,000 in 2001.